Found footage has existed in horror since the 1980s but didn’t explode in popularity until the late 2000s after the Paranormal Activity films. Soon after, the “screenlife” sub-subgenre sprang to life, telling stories without ever leaving the computer screen. And as of the late 2010s, we have yet another iteration of found footage films: the live stream movie. Deadstream, the first feature from the writing and directing team of Thomas and Vanessa Winter, falls into this final camp.
The film follows YouTuber Shawn Ruddy (Thomas Winter), who we learn has recently experienced controversy and is now returning to the public eye. Shawn’s show is based on him facing his fears, and his comeback will see him spend a night in a haunted house.
From its first moments, Deadstream is incredibly specific about its medium, which begins with a YouTube video announcement of the live stream event before bringing viewers into that live stream. The editing in the initial moments is frantic, and the screen is filled with visual gags. It’s an incredibly high-energy introduction to the world of the movie that then makes the move to the live stream that much more jarring.
There’s a significant amount of time spent with Shawn as he sets up cameras and explains how everything works. And that set dressing does a fantastic job of establishing the rules and reality of the film. Particularly as Shawn explains that the cameras he’s setting up throughout the house are motion activated, and (a major problem in many found footage films) acknowledges that he made a spooky score he will sometimes play during the stream.
But the medium specificity extends beyond the formal elements of the film. Winter perfectly rides the line between charming and annoying, which seems to be the sweet spot for many YouTube creators. And the narrative hinges on him having gone too far with one of his videos, something that’s sadly all too real for many creators.
It’s not necessarily difficult to make a believable movie about people who make their money creating video content. But it’s commendable that the Winters have made sure to portray formal and cultural markers authentically.
What To Do?
The logistical setup at the film’s start could become a bit tiresome as it lasts over ten minutes. But it’s accompanied by Shawn recounting the story of the haunted house where he will stay for the night. He piecemeal delivers the story of a young woman who wrote poetry and desperately sought love before dying by suicide in the home as he sets up his cameras.
The fact that the house is beautifully decrepit (courtesy of production designer Amy Leah Nelson Smith) and every room feels like it could have served as the setting for a snuff film makes this setup sequence effectively unnerving. And while the young woman’s story isn’t original, it sets the tone for spooky happenings perfectly.
But once the story has been recounted and the cameras are set up, Deadstream pauses a bit. You can almost feel the film sorting out what plot beat to hit next and how this classic premise will stretch to feature length this time.
Luckily the movie doesn’t spend too long simply waiting for something scary to happen and neatly shifts into its explicit horror half. The film’s back half has astounding practical effects, some genuinely surprising twists, more than a few effective jump scares, and at least one laugh-out-loud funny joke. But it has an entirely different feeling from the first half.
The start of the live stream is atmospheric and unsettling as we explore the house and worry about ghosts appearing. But as the film continues, it becomes closer to Sam Raimi‘s first two Evil Dead movies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially given that the movie works in both modes, and the fact that this turn is unexpected is worth celebrating. But it makes Deadstream feel a bit uneven.
It draws you into its atmosphere and stories of ghosts from the late 19th century; Shawn even says at one point, “I feel like I’m in The Ring,” and we fully understand why. But the shift to a more chaotic and comic style in the film’s latter half leaves that atmosphere behind, and it ends up feeling a bit like an unfulfilled promise.
Deadstream is a fun horror movie, but it’s not a scary one after its first half-hour. While both fun and fear are great, the fact that Deadstream delivers one type of horror only to trade it in for another ends up feeling a bit disappointing. It’s a solid entry in its sub-subgenre and undoubtedly worth seeking out for any fans of creative found footage movies, but it will not convert anyone to the medium.
Deadstream is now streaming on Shudder.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.
He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.